By Patti Richards

Heading back to college is usually be a time of excitement and anticipation. But when addiction has taken over every aspect of life, finding the courage to go back to an environment of partying and performance-enhancing drugs is challenging. For many college students around the country, starting the school year requires much more than new bed sheets and notebooks.

According the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration found that more than 5 million young adults — that’s one in six people between the ages of 18 to 25 — required treatment for substance abuse in the previous year.1 And since a large percentage of these young adults lived on college campuses for most of the year, finding the treatment they so desperately needed has been challenging. However, with a national spotlight firmly fixed on the opioid epidemic and underage and binge drinking on college campuses, more colleges than ever before are providing options so students can graduate clean and sober.

Administrations Stepping Up

A recent NBC News report found a recent change in attitude and response of college administrations toward campus drug use and addiction. In 2013, there were only 29 substance abuse recovery programs on college campuses across the country. Today, there are close to 200.2

The Association of Recovery in Higher Education represents college recovery programs and helps campuses offer everything from counseling and substance-free housing to education and social events. The organization’s mission is to create communities of support and accountability in an otherwise substance-fueled environment where parties and drugs are the norm rather than the exception.3 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also provides funding for these programs.

“Bringing recovery supports onto the college campus can be a key part of an individual’s academic success and the success of their overall recovery,” said Christopher M. Jones, director of the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory at SAMHSA.2

Dr. Andrew Finch

Want to hear more from Andrew Finch about the history and effectiveness of campus recovery programs? Listen to his full interview  with the Recovery Unscripted podcast.

Facing Recovery in College

Two men talking in classroomThe first collegiate recovery program (CRP) began at Brown University in 1977 and was quickly followed by Rutgers University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).4 But the movement to bring addiction recovery programs to colleges and universities across the country had a difficult time catching on. Experts and advocates blame the stigma associated with addiction

and the ongoing need to attract students to the most popular colleges.

Christopher Hart, a consultant with Transforming Youth Recovery, summed up past attitudes in a recent article for Vice News. “We don’t want to take the college tour of prospective parents by the location where students in recovery are gathering,” he said.5

However, due to the increased coverage of accidental overdoses on college campuses connected to fraternities and the number of young adults lost to the opioid epidemic, more universities and colleges are establishing collegiate recovery programs where students can get help.

For students who are in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, CRPs offer the kind of holistic and tailored support they need to stay clean and sober while maintaining academic success. To get involved, students can simply call their campus student health services or CRP Helpline.

As an example of the kinds of services CRPs provide, the University of Michigan’s CRP offers students:

  • Connections with other recovering students
  • Involvement in fun, sober events on- and off-campus
  • Recovery support and accountability through case management, including weekly check-in, support for transitions into campus, etc.
  • Opportunities to be of service
  • Connections to resources for academic wellness and support
  • Access to the lounge which is a safe, supportive space where students can relax and recharge
  • Opportunities to debunk stereotypes and myths about addiction and recovery6

In partnership with CRPs, campuses often feature student-led support groups like Students for Recovery and encourage members to take advantage of local 12-Step programs and meetings to further encourage ongoing recovery.5 Using these opportunities to connect with counselors and other students on the same recovery journey is the best way to prevent relapse.

Clean and Sober on Campus

Along with CRPs, some colleges have established sober living dorms for students in recovery. Augsburg College in Minneapolis is home to the StepUp Program where 100 students per year live in recovery dorms that are designed like urban lofts. “It’s the largest residential collegiate recovery program in the nation,” said Patrice Salmeri, Program Director for StepUp. Each student applicant to the program must have six months of continuous sobriety and letters of recommendation in order to be considered for admission.7

More and more colleges and universities are getting on board, too. Currently, there are more than 50 campuses across the United States that now offer sober living dorms for students in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Having to choose between getting a college education and staying sober is no choice at all. Check with your college to see if sober living is an option for you.

Finding Help for Addiction

If you or your son or daughter struggles with substance use, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admission coordinator about available treatment options.


1 Park‑Lee, Eunice, Lipari, Rachel N.,and Hedden, Sarra L.; RTI International: Kroutil, Larry A. and Porter, Jeremy D.. “Receipt of Services for Substance Use and Mental Health Issues among Adults: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, September 2017.

2 Kaplan, Ezra. “Millions of College Students Are Recovering from Addiction. Schools Are Finding New Ways to Help Them.”, NBCUniversal News Group, May 29, 2018.

3 “Starting a Collegiate Recovery Program.” ARHE Collegiate Recovery, July 2018.

4 Castedo, Sierra. “History.” ARHE Collegiate Recovery. July 27, 2018.

5 Sherman, Carter. “In Class, on Campus, at Parties, in Recovery.” VICE News, Vice, September 6, 2017.

6 “University Health Service.” Ten Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health | University Health Service. July 27, 2018.

7 Siegel , Zachary. “Welcome Back to School: How to Stay Sober in College.” The Fix, August 26, 2015.